Criticism: bitter pill or learning tool?
Last week I received some feedback. Timely for this past weekend, it was about the way I speak to my son.
I find there are few things more emotive than commenting on people's parenting. It's a subject loaded with feelings, fears; expectations with no ultimate ‘right way' but lots of potential pitfalls we hope to avoid.
Hearing something negative about what we're doing can trigger all kinds of reactions.
Yet, do we ever like to hear negative things about ourselves? Feedback, notes, correction, areas for improvement, constructive criticism … all fancy words for what can just feel like plain old criticism or worse, accusation.
Neither of which I have ever been very good at handling.
And true to form, I reacted to this comment. Hard. I became so defensive I could almost feel the barricade rise up between my friend and me.
Prickling and burning with hurt and anger and spite, I wanted to say mean things back to her. While on the inside I berated myself, warping her words into weapons, telling myself I was a terrible parent who couldn't do anything right. I was in the maelstrom of what vulnerability expert Brené Brown calls a “shame spiral” and it was sucking me into its darkness.
Then, luckily, I looked at myself. In a momentary glimpse of perspective I saw that this was a choice. I was choosing to whip a comment into a hurricane, ultimately serving no one and potentially harming my friendship.
As if caught in a riptide, I had to swim sideways. I took a deep breath and asked myself, what is actually true here?
My friend, whom I love and respect and has my best interests at heart, has told me that I sometimes take what my eight-year-old says very personally and can overreact in a negative way.
What? Who me? Oh dear, do I see a pattern emerging?
She is not telling me I'm a terrible parent (I was doing that) and I doubt simply being mean, she is my friend. Those are the facts. What do I choose to do with them?
One option is to not take the comment on. It is an opinion that I could choose to ignore. It's important to consider who is offering the criticism and why. Is this someone who I respect and whose opinion I value? In this case, yes.
So then I consider the feedback. Can I see why she would say that? Do I agree? Is this an area that I would like to improve? The answer: yes to all three.
It means having to admit that my performance was lacking, that I was wrong, but in one area. One criticism does not mean I'm terrible or a failure. I want to be a great parent; how can I use this opportunity to develop new skills and awareness?
Criticism isn't the bitter pill we often make it out to be. We have a choice of how we react to it. Coming from the right sources, perhaps we can even welcome it as a useful way to learn and grow.
Although, critics, I'd still say choose your words wisely!
• Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For more information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapitt coaching.com